Creating Celtic Knotwork: A Fresh Approach to Traditional Design

Creating Celtic Knotwork: A Fresh Approach to Traditional Design

by Cari Buziak


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"The complex designs can be confusing, but I love how this book makes it simple to follow. The author offers two innovative — and very simple — approaches to designing unique celtic knot designs that make it easy enough for (almost) anyone to create their own." — Daily Greet

Whether you're a complete beginner or have already attempted to learn the art of Celtic knotwork, this is the book for you! Artists at all levels will treasure this guide, which not only demonstrates how to duplicate patterns from a rich and varied gallery of examples but also how to take the next step to creating your own unique designs.
This newly revised edition of Creating Celtic Knotwork features a wealth of added material and revisions. Author Cari Buziak draws upon her extensive teaching experience to present easy-to-understand, well-illustrated instructions that explain all the basic techniques of Celtic patterns as well as the art's meaning and history. In addition to spirals, mazes, and step patterns, the designs include dragons, hounds, and other animals as well as human forms. Exercises and tips encourage experimentation that will allow you to develop your own variations on traditional forms. Information on drawing tools, painting materials, transferring patterns, and other practical aspects will help you get started right away.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486820330
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 01/16/2018
Series: Dover Art Instruction Series
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 811,797
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Cari Buziak currently lives in Calgary, Alberta, with one cat, one dog, and one beehive. She enjoys crafting, creating costumes, knitting and quilting. In a mix of old techniques (handmade gesso, egg tempera, gold leaf) and new (several Mac computers) she re-creates ancient manuscripts in painted and digital form for a wide variety of merchandising and fine art needs.
Cari's current and past published works include book illustrations for Interweave Press, Penguin/Pearson Books, Llewellyn Publications, and Chronicle Books as well as designing Irish dance dresses, jewelry designs, and other commissioned works. Her work has been featured in design magazines, and she has had gallery exhibitions in Calgary, Toronto, Indiana, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, Japan, London, and New York. Cari's artwork also appears in private collections in Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States.

Read an Excerpt


The Basics

Getting Ready ...

To create Celtic knots I use a technique that's based on a gridwork of alternating big and small dots. The dots create a pattern that allows you to make new knotwork designs easily and even in shapes other than just rectangles or squares, as you'll see later in this and other chapters. This book includes a few sheets of ready-made "dot paper" for you, but to create your own is easy.

Normal graph paper is made up of a series of squares all over the page. You can sometimes purchase it with bigger or smaller squares, depending on the size of knot you want to create. If only one size is available it can be scaled up or down using a photocopier, or made from scratch at any size using a computer.

Using different-colored markers or a pen, alternate coloring one big dot, followed by a smaller dot, all across the page of graph paper. Make sure that as you move down to the next row you continue to alternate the dots. If there is a big dot above in the previous row, then below it there should be a small dot, and so on. Once the whole sheet is covered, make a photocopy before using it — that way you won't have to make it again next time.

Basic Celtic Knotwork

For clarity, in my examples I will display only the big and small dots and not the graph paper lines.

To make your first knot, mark off a box anywhere on the sheet, at least 5 big dots and 4 little dots across. Mark the same distance down (5 big and 4 little dots) so you have an even square. For the dot system to work properly, make sure box corners are always on a BIG dot.

Each small dot is going to be an intersection where two "ropes" of knots are going to cross over each other. Begin to add a double-lined "X" over the little dots within the marked-off box, with each set of the "X" lines running to either side of the little dot like a tic-tac-toe board tipped on its side.

Continue drawing a double-lined "X" over each little dot until reaching the box border. Do not "X" the little dots that lie right on the border line, just those that fall within the border. Your big dots never get crossed over by the knot. Think of the big dots as posts that the knot must bend around to follow its path. You will find that the "X" patterns will meet up on the diagonal, which is correct. If you're making a very large knot, you can make this step go faster by using a ruler and just drawing a line along the diagonal of the little dots. However, when you begin to make very complicated knots, the "X" method keeps things from getting tangled up because it's easier to see clearly what's going on as you proceed.

At this point, there should be a double "X" over every little dot in the box. There will be empty spaces along the sides of the box and at the corners, but the center portion should be filled with the "X" pattern, as shown here.

Now that all the little dots are bordered with the "X" pattern, join the knot lines along the sides, top, and bottom of the box. Along one side (it doesn't matter which you begin with) find two pairs of lines angling out toward each other from the body of the "X" pattern. Connect these to each other with a smooth curve. Vary the sharpness of the turn to suit your tastes, from a 90-degree angle to a soft, round curve. There are many variations you can create by varying the angle of the bends.

Once all the loose ends that angle toward each other on the sides are joined, add corners. As with the sides, the way you join the corners is up to you, and you may want to experiment with different corners (see the examples on pages 9, 10, 13 and 14).

Joining the corners is easy, as there are only two pairs of lines in each corner to join. If there are other lines left over, then you have probably drawn the marked-off box incorrectly and put a corner on a small dot. Remember, for the pattern to work every corner of the marked-off box must be on a BIG dot. Also, check that you have not added an "X" to any of the small dots on the box border line. That will also break the pattern.

With all the lines connected on the knot we can begin to make the strands weave, or interlace. Each strand, if you follow it with your finger, will be made to appear as though it alternates over and then under and then over any other strand it intersects with. So any strand in the knot will appear to go over-under-over-under the other strands in the knot.

To begin, pick an intersection on the knot over a little dot. It doesn't matter which you choose. Erase part of the double lines, making the illusion that one strand is crossing over the other (see top left of the graph).

Trace the path of that same strand of knot. When it reaches the next intersection, erase part of the double lines, but this time change the direction of your erasing — if you erased the first intersection as an over, this next one should be an under, or vice versa. Continue to follow the path, alternating overs and unders as you go. If you reach the beginning and there are still strands of over/under that haven't been erased, don't worry. This just means that your knot actually has more than one strand of knotwork in it. Simply pick an unerased intersection and look at the other ones around it. If the strand leading into the intersection has just come from UNDER another strand, you need to erase your lines so it now passes OVER this one. Continue until all the intersections have been erased.


Modifying the Basic Knot

To add complexity to your knotwork, begin the same way we started a Basic Knot. Mark off a portion of your graph paper with 5 big dots and 4 little dots across. Mark the same distance down the graph (5 big and 4 little dots) so it is even. As you already know, each small dot is going to be an intersection where two strands of knot are going to cross over each other, but this time we are going to interrupt their path with "walls," which will force the knot lines to bend in different directions. The walls are placed between two (or more) BIG dots and only lie on the horizontal and/ or vertical. Place these walls anywhere you like.

On my example I have marked off two walls jutting out from the top and bottom borders, as well as floated one long wall in the center of my box. Walls may also be placed in combinations when creating your knot. You can line them up several across or partner them up into "T" or "L" or "+" shapes, and each will give you a different knotwork pattern. Always remember to add the walls on the horizontal and vertical (never the diagonal), or your design won't turn out right.

At this point, start marking your "X" pattern over all the little dots on your graph. Do this over every little dot on the graph EXCEPT for those that have a wall through them. This is where the knot lines are going to be bent away from their paths — because they can't pass through a wall, the lines will bend away naturally into other directions.

Now your knot should have all the little dots crossed. You can probably already see how the pattern is going to go just by looking at the design. This can be helpful when making a lot of different patterns to fill an entire page, because you can often tell whether there is enough detail and how the design is roughly going to go. At this point, either scrap them if they aren't going to work or add more walls to break up the pattern.

Now check whether the pattern has any bends along the walls or boundary box outlines. As with the basic knot, these lines will be angled toward each other.

Notice in the example how at no time do the knot strands pass over the walls. They're forced to bounce off of them or bend around them — this is how the pattern develops.

Next add corners on the knot to tie up all the remaining loose ends. Some patterns (depending on where you put your walls) may or may not have bends or corners to add. However, all the loose strands should have something to connect to. If there are loose strands that can't connect to anything, make sure to check that box corners are on big dots and that the walls you've added are going from big dot to big dot.

Now begin to make the strands of the knot interweave. As before, each strand as it interweaves must go over and then under any other strand it intersects as you follow its path. To start over/unders, pick a point of intersection on the knot. It doesn't matter where. At this intersection, erase part of the strand to one of the ropes of knot, making the illusion of one strand passing over the other.

Continue to follow one strand of knot, erasing as you go, alternating whether it goes over or under the next strand it meets. Again, if you reach the end of the knot's path and there are still strands of over/under that haven't been erased, simply pick an unerased intersection and look at the other ones around it. If the strand leading into the intersection has just come from under another strand, erase your lines so the strand now passes over this one. Continue until all the intersections have been erased to complete the knot.

In this example I have used a different wall pattern and some fancier corners to give the knot some personality.

In this example a skewed dot pattern makes the upper knotwork appear bigger and thicker, while the lower portion is compressed and smaller. The techniques we used before are exactly the same; we've just changed the dimensions of the dot grid, which forces the knot to change to follow it. These changes to the dot grid are most easily done on a computer, but with patience they can be graphed out by hand as well.

Knotting Variations

To give a knot personality, you can vary the overall thickness of the knotwork strands by making the "X" pattern thinner or wider. Making them close to the little dots will give you a thin knot with lots of background area showing behind the knot. This look is great when you want to color the background and the knot different colors.

A medium-thick "X" pattern will produce a medium-thick knot after it's woven.

Super thick "X"s will give you a thick, chubby knot. It can be tricky when doing really thick knots to tell where your "X"s are. Make sure to leave just a little bit of the "X" ends peeking so you don't get confused about the strand pattern when you're ready to weave it.

You can also change the look of your knot by changing the style of the corners. Choose all the same corner styles in one knot or mix and match. Some common styles of corners include rounded corners, which give a soft and casual feel to the knot.

Squared-off corners offer a more precise or structured look to the knot.

Mixed styles develop when you use one type of corner in some parts and then a different corner style elsewhere. This variation is great for large, complex knots because it adds more detail or interest to a larger piece.

Elongated or tapered corners can be used to soften the overall design — this helps to break up the grid look and gives the knot a more freeform appearance.

"Petal tips" is what I call a variation where each corner is pulled out and given a bit of a curve, mimicking a stylized flower petal or other shape.

"Split weaving" is a technique where you add a center line to knotwork strands BEFORE you begin weaving. Once split, each narrow strand should be woven as its own continuous path. It adds an extra level of difficulty to the knot without having to create an entirely new design.

This is a variation on split weaving where instead of splitting the knot strand along the entire length of the path, you only split it for a small portion of the design.

Inner outlines within finished knotwork strands can be added for an extra level of detail. This technique is easily mastered and is great for adding some extra color to your finished piece. Use a different shade as the main knotwork or a contrasting color for fun.


"Walls" can sprout from the edges of the box, occur in the middle of the box, or in any combination. Remember that they can only lie on the horizontal or vertical. There are two tricks in the exercises on this page. In one, there is a long continuation of the knotwork strand as it stretches around some walls to meet up with some other lines. In the other, there is a little "twist" or loop around a big dot, rather as if the knotwork strand is going around a fence post.

Here are examples of "walls" for some of the more common Celtic knots found in ancient manuscripts. In this exercise you'll see how deciding where to put your walls and how much space you leave between them can affect the look of your knot.

This knotwork example is sometimes called the Josephine's Knot. As the story goes, it resembles a common knot sailors used. Napoleon's Josephine was much loved by sailors so they named this knot after her. Some folks also call it a Lover's Knot because the two halves resemble two infinity symbols linked together. Neither name is historical in any way, but it makes a lovely knot pattern.

The Trefoil Knot

An important knot shape used in Celtic art is the Trefoil design. Also called the Trinity Knot, it's characterized by a triangular shape and has three main "lobes" of knotting to form the triangle. It can be made in many variations!

To make the Trefoil knot, you'll need a compass and a piece of regular paper. Set the compass to an average size and make a circle that is at least three inches in diameter on the page. Make sure there's a bit of room around the circle on your page, as the finished knot will be slightly larger than this initial circle.

Without changing the compass setting, mark the circle at approximately the twelve o'clock position. Place the point of the compass on this point and use it to make small marks or ticks where it crosses the initial circle on each side, at approximately the 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock positions.

Now place the compass on one of the marks you've just made — it doesn't matter which one you do first. Draw a semi-circle within the initial circle. It should start at the twelve o'clock point and end in the lower quarter of the circle. It's not necessary to make a whole circle, but the ends should extend a little past the outer edges of the original circle.

Make the other arc the same as you did the first one, but now from the opposite side. The two arcs should cross at the center point of the circle. If they don't, check to make sure the compass setting was not accidentally changed. It should still be the same size as the first circle.

Now place your compass point on the spot where one of the arcs passes over the original circle and make another tick on the bottom of the circle. You don't need to make a mark on either side of the arc, just on the lower half at the 6 o'clock position.

Place your compass on this bottom mark and draw another arc from side to side within the circle. This is the basic skeleton of the Trefoil Knot. All that's left to do is double up the lines and erase the overs and unders.

Using the measuring scale on your compass, enlarge its diameter now by however much you want the thickness of the knotwork strands to be. Place the compass point back onto the 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock, and 6 o'clock positions and draw a new arc from each position.

Once the circles and ticks are removed, you can see the shape of the Trefoil Knot beginning to take form. Clean up the corners of the knot so they come to nice points.

Pick a point where one of the knot strips intersects another and make it pass over the other, erasing the under lines from the "under" strip from within the "over" strip.

Following the same strand around, the next intersection should be the opposite of the first (so if it was an under, this will be an over), and the final intersection will be the same as the first, finishing the knot.

This variation was created by making the original arcs larger so they extended past the centerpoint of the original circle, rather than passing through the center. It produces a looser, more open-looking knot.

With the extra space in the knot above, I can add designs such as circles, hearts, or triangles to give me more things to weave through and increase the complexity of the knot.

If the second set of arcs are a good deal larger than my original ones the result is a big, chubby trefoil.

For this example, I made my original knot quite open and loose and then created a smaller, tighter knot. The smaller knot is placed at 60 degrees of the first, so it appears rotated within the first.

In this variation the original knot is loose but a second smaller one has been set within it without being turned. Notice how the differing shape of the corners of the inner knot make it more interesting than merely a bunch of repeating corners.


Excerpted from "Creating Celtic Knotwork"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Cari Buziak.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Basics
Borders & Corners
Maze & Step Patterns
Techniques & Materials

Customer Reviews